-----In 2004 we bought a falling-down house and 30 acres. This blog documents our progress-----

Friday, November 24, 2006

storm damage to trees

Dad went up to water the fruit trees and check the damage from the big storm they had. Here's his email report and photos.

damage to orchard Nov 2006 2

damage to orchard Nov 2006 1

"I arrived at 4pm last Monday and worked until 9pm watering the entire collection of fruit trees in the orchard and the two isolated ones. As far as I could see none of the agaves are left. I had to do repairs for the enclosures damaged by either wind or roos or both. Two of the trees were striped bare, but are budding new leaves.

I transferred 800 gal of potable water to the irrigation tank and put this on the trees over the period 4-8pm, giving apx 20-30min water time to each set of 2 trees which the system will support watering at a time. I will replace the straw lost on the tree nearest the dam at the next visit, as there was not any to be found. Sorry about the agaves.

While watering, I did repairs, re-attaching the shadecloth blown off by heavy winds on those not damaged in other ways. Our method of merely bending the wire back on itself in a loop failed in many places, so I needed to do a twist of the wire on itself to ensure this could not happen again".

Saturday, November 18, 2006

choosing a sewerage system

Even though it's a few years off yet before we install it, we need to decide now how the sewerage will be treated, so as to be able to show it on the planning permit application that Dad needs before he can do any proper work at the old house.

To have a shot of having a nice garden, we need to recycle as much water as possible. Most people only recycle grey water, but that means wasting all the sewerage. Given we have to go off the grid anyway (as there's no mains sewerage in our area), we've decided we'd like to get a complete grey & black water treatment and recycling system.

Dave looked at using reed beds but the eco-warrior syle of treatments looked fairly difficult to look after, so he's now leaning towards buying a readymade system. These are essentially like building a 'private' sewerage system that enables the water used to be recycled, at the minimum, to a garden, at best, to produce potable water.

Planning regulations regarding these systems are pretty strict (e.g.they need to be inspected 4 times per year minimum) and not all the advertised 'solutions' are really a complete recycling system when you delve into them. Here's the ones we found online via the EPA's website which we thought might be suitable:

Aquanova http://www.aquanova.com.au/
Ecosse Pty LtdBallarat Vic 3350
Tel. 03 5331 4677

Ozzikleen http://www.ozzikleen.com/
North Central septics (echuca?)
tel: 03 5480 1387
mob: 0419 893 271

Taylex http://www.taylex.com.au/
Distributor for central goldfields:
R & F Building Industries
Frank Ortisi ph: (03) 9336 4832
mob: 0419 896 957 Frank, 0407 829 604 Rob

Septech http://www.septech.com.au/
tel: 1300 557 143

Envirosep http://www.envirosep.com.au/
Tel: (03) 9761 9720

Biocycle http://www.biocyclejowagroup.com.au/
Eaglehawk VIC 3556Tel: (03) 5446 9004

Dave emailed the ones who'd given email addresses and asked:
  • Do you supply to the Maryborough/Avoca region?
  • What is the standard cost of purchase and installation? (I know these vary with site, but a ball park figure or range would suffice)
  • What are the typical maintenance requirements & costs?
  • How long does the system last? (I.e. will it need to be replaced in 10 years? 15 years?
  • Why is this system better than other approaches, be they reed beds or competitor systems?

I'll post an update with their responses. Update is here.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

designing the walled garden

Shortly after we got back from Australia, my brother Pete lost his job. He's a bricklayer so wanted to earn some fill-in money helping out building the garden wall pillars at Amherst.

So, we started a frantic effort to describe what we wanted done, relayed via Mum and Dad as Pete isn't online yet. As it turned out, the panic was unnecessary as Pete got another job within a few days, but at least we made a little progress thinking through the requirements.

Below are extracts from various emails that describe where we got to in our discussions with Pete. There's also a Flickr set that you might want to jump straight to, which has photos we're using for inspiration:



We had a good discussion with Pete about the brick walls, or rather pillars, and the design on the afternoon just before we left. The plan had been he might try and start over Xmas. But in the circumstances I guess we can bring it forward, although there is still some legwork Dave & I need to do before he can make too much progress.

1) Dave needs to call the permit people. I will try and get him to do it in the next few days.

2) I need to send photos of wall patterns etc that I like for the pillars. Pete showed me some ideas he had and they were really good, but he'd asked me to think some more about it myself and send him some photos.

Where we left it with Pete is that we will be having 16 pillars, some perhaps a bit fancier than others (eg: the gateposts). After discussion with Dave, we're inclined to mostly use bricks he showed us called 'quick bricks' or 'render bricks'... they were of a similar texture to the ones you bought already but they are about 1.5 times the size and Pete thought they would work out cheaper than the smaller bricks, especially when you factor in labour. We also prefer the look of the bigger bricks. Pete did the calculation of how many bricks we'd be likely to need for that and how long it was likely to take (his initial estimate was 2-3 pillars a day) and I agreed a rate of $100 per day cash with him for labour. Of course, we can also pay for reasonable use of petrol too.

What we also agreed was that he would make an initial exploratory trip up to Amherst one time when you were there, so he can actually see the site, see what materials & equipment are available, visit the brickworks himself at Ballarat & Bendigo to see what's available and prices, etc. Perhaps that is something you can do this week with him, and maybe he can even start to pour the foundations for the trenches that are already dug if he urgently needs work. Start with the trench nearest the house, because that will definitely need the concrete foundation all the way along infilling the trench, because we will ultimately be having potting sheds/glasshouse etc leaning against those walls.

I know it probably isn't the usual approach, but I would like to start off just doing the pillars/foundation for the 2 ends we've already dug. That way we don't have to invest in hiring equipment again immediately. Until we know what kind of material we'll be having between pillars, we don't know the type of foundations we'll need. As you know I want to try and avoid digging giant trenches on the 40m sides as they take so long to do with the digger and thus cost $$$$ & instead just have holes where the pillars are. But we need to do more research at our end about these Hever sheets & the planning permission before we can make a decision. So, so as not to hold up Pete, he could start off just doing the short ends.


Pete doesn't have email so instead he handwrote a note about the garden wall project, which Dad scanned and sent to me. Here they are (click to make them bigger).

pete's comments 1 pete's comments 2

I replied:

I'm OK with the approach of setting up an account with a local guy for materials, and also with Pete's time cost. But, I'd like to have a costing (even if just a ballpark estimate) for all the materials before we commit to proceed. Perhaps on his exploratory trip up there with you, Pete can visit suppliers to get this and find out details of how to set up the account? How we approach paying for the materials is going to depend on cost... we might perhaps give a credit card to the material supplier (in which case it would be coming out of our UK savings) or we might instead have to pay via bank deposit (so it comes out of Australian savings). I can't tell you which until we have the estimate of cost.

I know Pete wants to go ahead quickly as fill in work, but I want to give myself time to a) think carefully about the design, and b) get a response even if informal from the planning guy. I have to write the email to him over the weekend as haven't had time to do it yet. I would hate to invest thousands in building the bloody brick pillars for them to say that we needed to alter it. So, it might be a fortnight or so before we have this, but I will go as fast as I can.

In terms of the Pete's comments re: design/patterns, I need to think more about this and discuss with Dave. We'll attempt to do this over the weekend.



As you said you'll be talking to Peter soon Mum, could you pass on the message that we've got pictures to show him? He'd asked us to send lots of photos of things we liked to help him better understand the style we wanted. Even though the focus to begin is on the pillars, we need to think about the whole thing so as to make sure the pillars are in the right place, and that as well there are sufficient foundations for whatever eventually goes inbetween.

The approach I'm trying, because it's too difficult to coordinate otherwise given everyone's different schedules, is to put all the photos onto Flickr into a special set. Then everyone can peruse them at their leisure and add their own comments directly to each photo. ie: we can all have a conversation without it having to be on the phone at the same time, or buried in emails.

Here's the link to the set.

... [from here on you can see the comments as part of the Flickr set]

Sunday, November 12, 2006

tweaks to new house plans

We're almost finished now on the plans for the new house. We're just awaiting a few sketches of particular areas, and then it's time to build the model. Yay!

Just so this blog is a complete record of the process, below are extracts from recent emails with Eric.


You'll be pleased to know that we still love the ideas we discussed. There are just three things...

1) after a little more thought I have a slight trepidation about the library 'tower' feeling a bit too formal, cold, arcane, which I think it might if the only things in the upper level of the tower are bookshelves. But, I think that could easily be offset, provided that on one side this is a little area for seating. For example, perhaps we could have a little walk in alcove on one side, which could have seats and a small desk, etc. It doesn't have to be big, but I think it'd make all the difference in feeling in the upstairs space so that it didn't feel like somewhere you just went to get a book and then came straight back down. I'd suggest probably the side that looks into the secret garden area would be best for this, as guessing that will also have a sliver of distance view between the houses(?). I know this would mean we'd lose part of the book storage area, but that's OK, I think there'll still be plenty. What do you think?

I have imagined a little seat interrupting the bookshelves at some point in the upper bookshelf area. I's always nice to have a place to pause and sit with a book. The balcony should be quite open to the library area below. Perhaps once we have some sketches, it will be easier to visualize.

2) the roof of the laundry area... I forgot to mention this when we met, but to my eye it seems to slope oddly in comparison to the other areas. Was there a structural reason for this? Is it possible to alter so it echoes the other rooflines more?

That is true. I have gone back and forth on that roof. Here is the issue. Look at the west elevation. The gable is a 45 degree pitch to match the main house roof. See how it sticks up higher than the main roof over the laundry? On the south elevation, I have shown the ridge of the laundry roof return back into the main to at an angle so that it doesn't show in the courtyard. I did look at other options lie a shallower pitch on the gable over the laundry, but I like the way that the steeper gable re;ates to the main roof, and marks the main entry of the house. We can look at this more closely in the study model.

3) the bay window in the lounge - and I guess related, the shape of the balcony on the upstairs bedroom. I know we've discussed this over and over about whether to keep it with the circular feel or whether to make it more a square bay. And I know we settled at leaving it circular, for reasons I can't recall, which is why I didn't raise it when we met. But every time I look at the house plans, it just niggles at me still, and so I just thought I would flag with you that if you wanted to alter the shape, so that it was a rectangular bay rather than semicircle, to thus echo the boxier shapes of the dormers, the square library tower, the square stairs, etc, I would be very happy with you doing that.

The circular bay window originated in an idea about making the two sides slight different from each other. A square bay window would achieve that as well. I can look at it on the next version of the plans. If we don't like the square version, we can always go back.

verandah plans for old house

We're still undecided about how best to proceed with the work on the old house at Amherst once the planning permit comes. Of particular debate is the approach to building the verandah.

We're waiting for Dad to give us some costings before we can decide how to proceed.

In the meantime, below are extracts from various emails that capture the conversations and where we're at currently.


DAD SAID... in passing in an email November 6th

"...I would like to proceed with the veranda roof and framing when possible. Material stored there needs to be used or the white ants will eat it".


I REPLIED... in email November 7th

With regards to your comment about proceeding with the framing & verandah roof... don't forget the discussion we had at Dave's parents. We have decided we do not want to put the verandah roof on until the house has been painted , because it will be too difficult otherwise for us to paint the detailing at the top. This also means that we do not want to put the rest of the verandah floor on until after painting either, because without a roof it will have no protection.

I know you have bought materials for the verandah so if white ant is as big a problem as you keep saying it is, can you please move the verandah materials to the house - there seemed room to store them in the hallway stacked up, and they can happily sit there for the next few years until they're needed. Alternatively, they could be stored instead in the garage that you were going to erect down near the container (nb: on a gravel base only, not a slab).

As Dave explained when we spoke at his Dad's house, the order we want to proceed in working on the old house is:

- Put in windows/doors in the spots they'll be going according to the plans
- Repair weatherboards and existing window frames
- Make alterations to the house shape... ie: the bedroom baywindow, the new bit in the bathroom, the laundry backend, etc.
- Strip off old paint

- Paint undercoat on boards
- Paint one coat of top coat, in white (this will give some protection from the weather).

We would like the above work to be done in the next 18-24 months, so that when we next visit we can have a 'family working bee' to paint the house exterior the final colours.


DAD SAID... in email November 8th

"I know that access to the area above the veranda roof will be greatly facilitated by the roof, which is a trafficable roof of low pitch, and that the alternative to build a scaffold to access these areas with machinery to stripe paint and then to do the sealer and first coat stages would be time spent well by myself as I have no need for all the extra gear on the scaffold that use by anyone else would require, especially at the greater heights. So you may like to think of these things when thinking about the approach you take.

Also,I have $900 worth of fascia/beam materials in long lengths that will need to be protected from theft. I will make the suggestion that we use much of the material onsite as a temporary structure over the container creating storage areas around it and also giving it shade from the heat. You have new sheets of iron on the site now which can be stored away till needed, or made use of until needed. I certainly don't want to preempt your role of telling me what you want me to do and when. I merely wanted you to consider the alternatives".

I REPLIED... in email November 8th

Let me talk to Dave some more about the issue of the verandah roof. We'd thought that having the roof in place would hinder rather than help when it came to painting, as we'd not realised the verandah roof would be strong enough to support people walking on it. We'd been thinking people would be just using ladders to get up there to do the detailing (as some of the patterns at the top will need to be hand-painted to pick ou the pattern, not sprayed. Just so I'm clear I understand, are you saying that you think it would be better to build the roof so people can lie on that when they're doing the paint work above the verandah roofline, or would it make it harder to do the paint? Would you rather build the scaffolding and go down that route instead?

With regards to the $900 of fascia/beam materials, are they materials that you would have been using for the verandah roof? Or were they for some other part of the verandah, eg: the floor? As a general rule, I'm more inclined to use materials where they will ultimately end up rather than use them in a temporary structure, unless there's some good reason not to.


DAD SAID... in email November 9th

I would certainly prefer to do the framing of the veranda and the roof of the veranda now rather than later, even if the floor was not done and planks were used. I think access to things would be much simpler for the painting and preparations. But I have not got all the material needed to do all the veranda. I bought material in batches which I could carry on given trips. I needed to have the range of things to do stages of the job I was at. I do not like to have things left lying around on the ground subject to ruin and theft because of not wishing to finish as begun, but I know how important it is that you do not feel overly pressured with the cost. I have not bought any material that are not for the veranda except the plaster materials.

I will talk further to you about the level of the roof above the windows, and be able to discuss it better when I have more time. A change in level that is too great will mean the length of the roof sheets will be too short unless I also raise the level of the outside edge of the veranda, so I need to clearly discuss with you and Dave all aspects before we go forward. I could lift the inner edge about 100 mm I think without risking the sheets being too short, but if I did that connecting the existing with the new will be difficult. So taking the existing off to make it comply with the new is the way to go. So I need to talk first to you of all things, and tell you all the aspects you need for an intelligent choice, and proceed from there."


EMAIL FROM ME TO DAD ... November 10th

I had an idea this morning about a way to save money on the old house renovations, which involves changing plans for the verandah. Before we make an ultimate decision though we wanted to get your input as to what the cost savings would be, in terms of both materials & labour.

I know that we at one stage said that we wanted a wraparound verandah on the old house as Dave likes them, but that was before we understood the cost of materials. As it seems to be working out a lot more expensive than we'd envisaged, we might be changing our minds. (it isn't set for certain though, we need the cost savings estimate from you so we can make a decision).

Specifically, the idea is to significantly reduce the area of verandah.

I've been looking for a photo to no avail, but do you remember what our Toora house looks like at the front? It's of a similar vintage to the Amherst old house and it doesn't have verandah across all of the front, only on the part that is 'set back'. Using that as inspiration, what if we only had verandah on the parts shaded yellow in this diagram?

verandah idea for old house

Can you estimate how much more $$$ we'd need for the materials if we went with this reduced approach? And can you tell us how much $$ we'd be saving by doing this approach rather than having it 'wraparound'? My estimate is that it must be substantial, at least $10,000, but am I way off?

A few things to say about the verandah that might help you in coming up with this estimate.

1) you can assume the roofing sheets you've already bought will be the right length. We are happy to raise the height of the outside edge of the verandah roof by the same amount as whatever we raise it by on the edge that joins the house (ie: the slope will remain the same, and thus the length of sheeting will also remain the same). We will probably be putting some kind of fretwork edging on it (like in this picture http://www.flickr.com/photos/lynetter/278274662/in/set-969191/ ) so having the outside edge higher will be good to allow that.

2) as shown in this picture http://www.flickr.com/photos/lynetter/278274662/in/set-969191/ we want to have the inside of the verandah roof lined to at least give an effect of being tongue & grooved, even if it isn't really. (eg: maybe it is a thin MDF sheet that has grooves carved into it, you can advise us on what you think most cost efficient to achieve the look we want). We will be painting the verandah lining sky blue as in the picture. In between the corrugated iron and the lining we will have insulation (and also do you think we would we need some form of water protection in case the corrugated iron leaks so it doesn't mess up the lining?).

3) we would really like to have a tongue & groove verandah floor, with the boards running with the joins in the opposite way to the way you've laid the decking. ie: like in this picture http://www.flickr.com/photos/lynetter/278271065/in/set-969191/ This means you'll need to do the foundations for the verandah floor differently. As well, be aware that not all tongue&groove boards will be cut to the exact length, so you'll need to have supports to allow for 'joining' mid floor. Again this might seem a lot of extra work vs getting them cut the exact lengths to begin, but it's traditional and it's the way Sam & John did theirs. As well, to ensure greatest longevity for the tongue & groove, we want it to be very solidly supported underneath so that there is no sense of 'bounce' as you walk on it. So, please err on the side of allowing for more supports underneath than less. The decking as you laid it currently has too much bounce for our liking. Overall, this will mean I suspect that a lot more wood will need to be used as supports for the floor than you may have been originally envisaging.

If it turns out that tongue and groove is going to be just way too expensive, there is an alternative that we'd consider. Today I came across another photo of an old verandah on a Queensland house, which seems to have a different kind of floor:

verandah with different floor

We don't like it anywhere near as much as tongue & groove, but it's a type of floor that is OK and is in keeping with the era. So if it turned out to be substantially cheaper for the materials & labour to build than tongue & groove, then it is something we'd consider.

Whenever you're doing the estimates (and as I said, there's no rush), if a floor like this would be cheaper, can you cost it up as an alternative so we can see the difference in price & then make our decision based on that?

4) if there is a way of using up the wood you were envisaging as being for the verandah pillars elsewhere (eg: as part of the foundation) then please do. I would rather buy nice verandah posts readymade in a lovely shape than use the square beams you've been using currently. I know we could carve the beams to make them look nicer than they already are, but to be honest, I would much prefer just to get the right thing to begin with as it will make such a difference to the look.

eg: I like the verandah pillars in this picture (except for the bit at the bottom which is obviously missing but could be simply a block of carved wood).

closeup of bay.jpg

I know you said it is possible to buy lovely verandah posts ready made for you guessed $250 each? Maybe you could get a catalogue, or visit a shop that sells such posts and take some photos for us (with corresponding prices) and I will pick out specifically which shape I want.

5) just in case you were concerned, do not worry about the sun coming into the windows on the side without the verandah... we will charmingly solve that by creating a little canopy thing over the windows akin to in this picture

awnings with blinds


DAD'S REPLY... in email November 10th

"I have suspected from the time you were here that the portion of veranda deck that has been begun should simply be removed. For one reason, it is too low and the posts have been cut already for the beams to rest which are not going to be of any help with the design of veranda you are envisioning. Also it has only been started. The row of bearer which goes through roughly where the table sits now has not been placed, and nearly half of the deck boards are just sitting there for me to have access to the area underneath to place this bearer. This accounts for the spring. Also the posts are not set in concrete, but merely sitting on pads.

The deck boards can be removed easily as the wood is still green, and can be used to good advantage on the upwey house, which is rotting away and will need replacing soon, and merbau deck is the cheapest available since treated pine is no longer acceptable and neither is cypress for an open deck.

The posts are not acceptable, only inexpensive, so these could be used elsewhere as fencing or something else with good effect. Tooling these is not worthwhile as they are green material, not kiln-dried. Buying ready turned veranda posts is the way to go and with plans for the fancy fretwork to be fitted appropriately. There are suppliers for such finishes.

The framing of the veranda as you want the flooring to run at right angles to the house is needing to be changed, using rows of bearers which run in the direction of the flooring boards. This will enable the placement of the floorjoists at intervals of 450mm along the direction of the side of the house. This is opposite to the way I have begun, and so it is most intelligent to remove the present structure rather than try to incorporate it with this other design. It is just not going to be worth it.

I have worked on several such verandas as you envision in my time as a carpenter. I am not unfamiliar with how to build them, and to build them solidly. The only way you can get the lining board look you see is most probably with lining boards, but pehaps there are some alternative sheets around. I have installed lining boards just so to coves of ceilings.

Your idea of putting verandas around only half of the house is a good one. It is most likely that from an expense point of view the only place you will end up with a veranda in just in front of the front door extending to the edge of the house only. That would be adequate to achieve an outdoors area, though not protect the house from heat much overall. We still need to achieve the necessary five-star rating required under laws passed in the past few years, and all-round verandas are a big help for achieving energy saving ratings. I like the idea of having just the area you have planned in yellow, of course, but the cost may prove far too great. I will make some estimate when you are sure just what you want me to estimate".


I REPLIED... in email November 10th

"In terms of the verandah, yes probably ultimately we will remove the portion of verandah deck that is begun, but we don't want to make a final decision on it yet. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not do it now as we have not made our final decision and I hate the feeling of things going backwards. So leave it as it is, it will not be stolen, and it is useful as a resting place for while working up there.

Yes please, I would like you to cost the verandah to the area shaded in yellow & the description, as per my other email. From a design perspective, that's the minimum area I think we can have verandah on as it would look stupid otherwise. I just need to be told the costs so that we can make plans for financing.

I'm not saying we will be going ahead with the verandah as the immediate next project; that is still for discussion with Dave, as he still thinks that it will get in the way of the painting. But I would like to have the verandah cost at least as a ballpark so I know, as I do not want to do anything further up there until I get some rough costs".